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Nishida Kitaro's Philosophy of Absolute Nothingness (Zettaimu no Tetsugaku) and Modern Theoretical Physics

Agnieszka Kozyra Chair of Japanese Studies, University of Warsaw a.kozyra@uw.edu.pl
Philosophy East and West, Volume 68, Number 2, April 2018, pp. 423-446
Published by University of Hawai'i Press  


Nishida Kitarō1 (1870–1945), the founder of the Kyoto school of philosophy, often stated that his philosophy of Absolute Nothingness (zettaimu no tetsugaku), which had in part been inspired by Zen Buddhism, was not a kind of mysticism. In his last unfinished essay, Watakushi no ronri ni tsuite (Concerning my logic) (1945) he complained that his logic of absolutely contradictory self-identity (zettaimujunteki jikodōitsu no ronri) had not been understood by the academic world, and its meaning had been distorted. Nishida decided that the only way of clarifying his philosophical standpoint was to redefine the concepts of ‘mind’ and ‘logic’ by showing the relation of the philosophy of Absolute Nothingness to the philosophy of science, especially to quantum mechanics and Einstein’s theory of relativity. Nishida wrote many essays dedicated to the philosophy of science; the most important among them is Keiken kagaku (Experimental science) (1939), which I have translated into Polish, with comments from Krzysztof Stefan´ ski, professor of physics. The purpose of the present article is to explain how Nishida incorporated into his philosophy of absolute nothingness the standpoint of operationalism, elaborated by Percy W. Bridgman (1882– 1961), who received the Nobel Prize in physics in 1946, in order to undermine the adequacy of classical logic as far as the description of reality was concerned.

Absolute Nothingness and the Logic of Absolutely Contradictory Self-Identity

The last period of his philosophy culminated in the essay Zettaimujunteki jiko dōitsu (Absolutely contradictory self-identity) (1939), in which Nishida explains the logic of absolutely contradictory self-identity, also called by him the logic of paradox (hairi no ri).2 According to Nishida, it is only through resorting to the logic of absolutely contradictory self-identity that an adequate description of Absolute Nothingness as the essence of reality can be provided.

It should be noted that Nishida distinguished three types of discrimination. The first is irrational discrimination (higōriteki mufunbetsu), which is not logical. In the case of irrational discrimination we cannot judge irrational statements to be true or false, since such statements are chaotic and have no logical rules to govern them, so we simply reject them without analyzing them. The second is rational discrimination (gōriteki funbetsu),3 which is in compliance with the principle of non-contradiction (“A” is not “non-A”) of classical logic. It should be noted that to designate classical/ formal logic Nishida also uses terms such as “abstract logic” (chūshōteki ronri) or (p 424) “objectifying logic” (taishōteki ronri). In the case of formal logic we regard judgment affirmation or negation as true, so we can call it “two-value” logic (affirmation or negation). The third type is “discrimination without discrimination” (mufunbetsu no funbetsu),4 which is in compliance with the principle of self-contradiction — the truth is both affirmation and negation at the same time and in the same respect, so it is a “one-value” logic of absolutely contradictory identity (the complete logic of paradox).

The principle of non-contradiction of formal logic (“A” is not “non-A”) is only one aspect of the logic of absolutely contradictory self-identity (“A” is not “non-A” and “A” is “non-A”). That is why the rationality of formal logic is included in the logic of paradox as one of its aspects — formal logic is the aspect of self-determination of the reality in self-negation. According to Nishida, delusions arise if one becomes attached to objective determination and thereby is not able to grasp the whole structure of absolutely contradictory self-identity.5 The logic of absolutely contradictory identity describes a certain vision of reality and as such has very important philosophical implications. It is the foundation of Nishida’s philosophy of Absolute Nothingness, which was influenced by his Zen experience.

Nishida started his practice of Zen in April 1896 at Senshin’an, a small meditation center at the foot of Utatsuyama in Kanazawa, under the guidance of Setsumon Genshō (1850–1915). Nishida was apparently encouraged by his friend, D. T. Suzuki (Suzuki Daisetsu Teitarō, 1870–1966), who had attained the initial awakening, “seeing one’s nature” (kenshō), at Engakuji in Kamakura in 1895. Convinced that Zen should be explained in philosophical terms, Nishida never discarded his philosophical approach. Perhaps it was for this reason that he encountered so many difficulties in his kōan practice. Although Nishida abandoned his formal Zen practice in 1904 and thereafter devoted himself solely to philosophy, in Suzuki Daisetsu’s view it was in 1923 that Nishida’s final breakthrough in Zen took place, nearly twenty years after he had ceased his practice. Nishida said to Suzuki: “My thoughts have reached the point where they cannot be explained by the framework of conventional philosophical language.”6 His philosophy began a new phase at around the same time. He proposed a philosophy of absolute nothingness (zettaimu), that is, the reality that complied with the logic of absolutely contradictory self-identity. Even if one doubts that the new phase of his philosophy was connected with his “final breakthrough,” it is evident that Nishida linked his logic of absolutely contradictory self-identity to the Zen tradition.7 Nishida’s philosophical approach to Zen was expressed in a letter he wrote to Nishitani Keiji (1900–1990) in 1943:

It is true that my philosophy is related to Zen experience. Most people do not know what Zen is. I believe that the essence of Zen is “grasping the reality itself” (genjitsu haaku). I always wanted to translate the Zen experience into the language of philosophy, although I may not have succeeded in my attempt. But to do so was my paramount ambition from the time I reached thirty.8  (p 425)

Nishida was convinced that his philosophy was closely related to the vision of reality in the Zen tradition as revealed in the experience of Enlightenment (kenshō). According to him, “seeing one’s nature” (kenshō) means to penetrate to the roots of one’s self, to the bottom of absolute contradictory self-identity.9 According to the Garland Sutra (Skt. Avatamska sūtra; Jpn. Kegongyō), the reality of Zen Enlightenment is the world of absolutely contradictory self-identity of ‘one’ (ichi) and ‘many’ (ta), and such a state Nishida regarded as Absolute Nothingness since it cannot be objectified. Nishida states that the world of absolutely contradictory self-identity of ‘one’ and ‘many’ means that “innumerable things always contradict one another and are one and the same.”10

“The topos of absolute nothingness” is the paradoxical state in which all individual entities are unique and separated, and yet they are ‘one’, which means that they are mutually unhindered and interfused — a state that cannot be grasped as an object separated from the subject of cognition. The topos of Absolute Nothingness embraces everything in itself. Nishida warns that such a state cannot be thought of from the standpoint of object-subject dualism.11 He compares such a paradoxical state to an infinite sphere, which has no circumference and no fixed center (its center can be found everywhere). Such an infinite sphere is groundless and reflects itself within itself.12 The vision of reality as an infinite sphere with the center at any point is reminiscent of the notion of “the mode of existence in which all phenomena are mutually unhindered and interfused” (jijimuge) of the Kegon school. Nishida’s vision of absolutely contradictory self-identity of ‘one’ and ‘many’ has much in common with Kegon’s dictum, which expresses the state of Enlightenment: “all is one and one is all” (issai soku ichi, ichi soku issai).13 However, Nishida did not want to discuss his philosophy of Absolute Nothingness and logic of absolutely contradictory self-identity only in the framework of mystical religious experience.14 

Operationalism and Physics

In his last essay, Watakushi no ronri ni tsuite (Concerning my logic), left unfinished at his death in 1945, Nishida complained that his logic of absolutely contradictory self-identity had not been understood by the academic world. “One may say that it has not been given the slightest serious consideration. Not that there has not been criticism. But the criticism it has received has distorted my meaning.”15 According to Nishida, such distortion of the meaning of his logic of absolutely contradictory self-identity was due to the “objectifying” standpoint of his critics.16 He probably meant the criticism by his disciple, Tanabe Hajime (1885–1962). According to Tanabe, Nishida “confounded” religious intuition with the ultimate philosophical perspective. Tanabe argued that philosophy cannot be used to systemize religious awareness, which holds that to lose oneself is actually to find oneself. He also claimed that “making religion out of philosophy” contradicts the original mission of philosophy. Nishida regretted that Tanabe did not fully comprehend the standpoint and fundamentals of his thought, and attributed this to Tanabe’s being “stuck in Kantian (p 426) epistemology,” which rendered him unable to understand the structure of concrete historical reality.17

Tanabe’s critical approach was not isolated, and that is why Nishida decided that the only line of defense from similar accusations was to attempt to redefine the concept of ‘mind’ and ‘logic’ by showing the relation of the philosophy of ‘absolute nothingness’ to the philosophy of science, especially in accordance with the revolutionary discoveries in physics, specifically in the field of quantum mechanics and Einstein’s theory of relativity. Nishida was one of the people whose support facilitated inviting Einstein to Japan in 1922. Upon Nishida’s request Einstein gave a lecture at Kyoto University titled “How did the theory of relativity come to be formulated.” Since the beginning of time, philosophy has been aimed at explaining reality. Therefore the philosophical reflection was often inspired by scientific discoveries (e.g., Kant’s interest in concepts of time and space forged by Newton). In Nishida’s case the order was the opposite — first he devised the foundations of his philosophy of Absolute Nothingness and then he tried to prove its adequacy to the scientific description of reality. Nishida, who in his young years wondered whether he should study philosophy or mathematics, always showed great interest in the exact sciences, but it was Tanabe’s criticism that urged Nishida to write essays dedicated to the philosophy of science like Keiken kagaku (Experimental science) (1939),18 Butsuri no sekai (Physical world) (1943), and Kūkan (Space) (1944).

Tanabe interpreted rationality as thinking according to the laws of thought of classical logic — the principles of identity, non-contradiction, and the excluded middle. Nishida had to undermine the adequacy of classical logic as far as the description of reality was concerned; hence his interest in Bridgman’s operationalism theory. In Keiken kagaku (Experimental science) Nishida quotes Bridgman’s work The Logic of Modern Physics (1927). Bridgman believed that all concepts have operational character, meaning they do not describe the unchangeable properties of given objects, but are general conclusions derived from certain physical operations performed in the real world.19 According to Bridgman, the operationalistic definition of concepts became obvious due to the change that Einstein’s theory of relativity brought to the vision of reality espoused by classical physics. Einstein proved that time is not the Newtonian so-called ‘absolute time’, flowing freely without regard to any physical phenomena, for it is firmly bound with space. A serious argument for operationalism was made by Einstein in his statement that there exists no such thing as ‘an absolute simultaneity’ of events. The concept of simultaneity only signifies the operation of measuring by signals of defined velocity, which operation, given certain conditions, happens to bring about the same outcome. Simultaneity is not the property of the two events. Simultaneity of two events is relative and depends on the frame of reference — that which can be defined as simultaneous from the perspective of one frame of reference will not be simultaneous given a changed reference frame.

Due to Einstein’s theory of relativity Bridgman came to the conclusion that physical operations provide meaning to concepts that are the ‘tools’ necessary to grasp reality. All concepts and all theories are generalizations of deductions from certain (p 427) physical operations, making the operations the factors that determine and restrict them — all the aspects of reality that are not taken into account by the range of the undertaken operations are overlooked. 

In this context it is suitable to recall the old Indian parable about the blind men who were asked to describe an elephant. Using only their sense of touch, and each analyzing one chosen part of an elephant, they were not reaching conclusions that were simply wrong. One of the blind men touched the leg and decided that an elephant is like a pillar; another one touched the trunk and said the elephant resembles a snake. They were both speaking the truth, but being restricted by the method and the range of their research, they only arrived at partial truths. 

The adequacy of physical theories and the meaning of concepts are verified through experimental means. Every verification possesses operational character and is therefore determined and restricted. This is a very important conclusion since it undermines the absolute effectiveness of experimental verification. A theory that can be confirmed through certain operations cannot be confirmed by others, which can be seen in the example of the above-mentioned effect of simultaneity. Nishida believed that Einstein’s theory of relativity reached the essence of physical reality.20 He agreed with Bridgman’s opinion that all physical concepts are operational in nature, so knowledge in the field of physics is relative. There is no absolute movement, no absolute stillness, and also no unchangeable dimensions. All scientific concepts are operational, and that is why they are relative.

Bridgman’s theory of operationalism was often criticized for overlooking the role of speculative thinking in science and overestimating the significance of experience. Some of Einstein’s statements seem to suggest that, unlike Bridgman, he was not making experience the departure point for every scientific theory:

We now know that science cannot grow out of empiricism alone, that in the constructions of science we need to use free invention which only a posteriori can be confronted with experience as to its usefulness. This fact could elude earlier generations, to whom theoretical creation seemed to grow inductively out of empiricism without the creative influence of a free construction of concepts.21

It was statements of Einstein’s like these that influenced Karl Popper to reach the conclusion that all statements dealing with experience are ‘theory soaked’. It is because an observation is always selective, requiring a certain object, a determined goal, an interest, and its record posits points of view and problems. Nishida seemed to agree with such a stance:

Many people who carelessly use the term ‘scientific’ have never analyzed the process of scientific experimentation. Contrary to popular opinion, the scientific experience must contain dogmatic preconditions. Using the authority of science, many pseudo-scientists make an authority out of their own philosophical dogma.22

Other of Einstein’s statements point out that even though he valued intuition, he did not belittle the role of experience: “There is no empirical method without speculative concepts and systems; there is no speculative thinking whose concepts do not a (p 428) reveal, on closer investigation, the empirical methods from which they stem.”23 “Pure logical thinking cannot yield us any knowledge of the empirical world; all knowledge of reality starts from experience and ends in it.”24 We could say that Bridgman focused on Einstein’s second statement: “there is no speculative thinking whose concepts do not reveal, on closer investigation, the empirical methods from which they stem.” At the same time he was aware of the fact that Einstein’s statement contains features of rationalism and extreme empiricism.25

Einstein was convinced that concepts possess operational character and therefore cannot be considered adequate to reality. Concepts “are free creations of the human intelligence, tools of thought, which are to serve the purpose of bringing experiences into relation with each other, so that in this way they can be better surveyed.” 26 According to Einstein all concepts are rooted in experience.27 The concept of material point was created based on a body that was denied all its internal properties and was left with inertia, and translation with an addition of the concept of force. Einstein believed that the concept of space was not a concept a priori, since the need of grasping the mutual relations between material objects unavoidably leads to concepts responding to spatial relations. The concept of ‘distance’ between material objects became the basis for the concept of space, understood as bounded space in which the material objects are placed (e.g., the inside of a box). Newton’s concept of absolute space has little in common with the interpretation above since it is not subjected to the influence of mass and its movement and appears to be something rigid, homogeneous, unable to change or adopt any kind of state.

Einstein argued that the concept of time is not a priori either, since it was created as an effect of the observation of regular astronomical events (e.g., the orbit of the earth around the Sun). Time is an interval between two consecutive events of a periodic phenomenon — without a time interval the sense of time cannot exist.28   Einstein criticized Kant’s statements claiming that “concepts and basic laws . . . would simply be free inventions of the human mind which admit of no a priori justification either through the nature of the human mind or in any other way at all.”29  Kant was inspired by theories of contemporary physics, especially by Newton’s classical mechanics concept of absolute time and absolute space. It was due to Newton’s influence that Kant recognized time and space as a priori categories of mind.30   Meanwhile, the further development of physics and especially quantum mechanics rendered Newton’s concepts inadequate to reality.

Einstein claimed that Kant, though positing the existence of concepts a priori, was limited by the then prevalent notion that Euclidean geometry was an inherent necessity and enables a definite experience, therefore independent from sensual experience. 31 The advancement of science undermined the validity of such an attitude; hence, Einstein stated that all concepts would be dismissed if proven invalid, corrected if too carelessly ascribed to given phenomena, or replaced by new ones given that a different, or for some reason more highly valued, system could be created. Concepts that prove useful while organizing easily gain such an authority that we forget about their earthly provenience and accept them as data bearing the features of changeless reality. Next we ascribe to them the quality of ‘inherent necessities’, (p 429) ‘data a priori ’, et cetera. These types of mistakes for a long time commonly stood in the way of scientific advancement. Einstein considered ignorance of the operational character of concepts to be the biggest danger for the sciences. We often forget what features of the world urged us to create concepts in the first place and we have great difficulty with imagining the world of sensual experience without ‘the glasses of conceptual interpretation’ we have long grown accustomed to seeing through.

In the theory of operationalism Nishida found justification for creating new concepts (like ‘active intuition’, ‘eternal now’, ‘absolutely contradictory self-identity’, ‘subjective logic’, and ‘absolute nothingness’) that were to explain, better than the old ‘tools’, the structure of reality. With these, he undermined the cognitive value of such commonly recognized concepts as the ‘principle of non-contradiction’, ‘mind’, or ‘being’. For Nishida, accused of irrationalism, it must have been a relief to discover some great scientific authorities like Einstein and Bridgman also undermining philosophical theories that up until then had been acknowledged as rational. The vision of reality compliant with Einstein’s theory of relativity is no less shocking than Nishida’s vision, particularly in regard to the relation of space and time. In the four-dimensional continuum of classical physics, sections of constant time have absolute reality, meaning that it does not depend on the frame of reference. The four-dimensional continuum, which naturally divides into the three-dimensional and single-dimensional (time), keeps the four-dimensional way of viewing from appearing as obvious. In turn, the particular theory of relativity creates formal dependence between the way in which spatial coordinates on the one hand and time coordinates on the other are included in the laws of nature. In other words, time and space are not independent of events, and therefore the notion is false that if matter were to disappear only space would remain as the scene for physical events.32 It is hard to imagine the reality in which time and space can be removable like mass and energy. Events considered simultaneous from one frame of reference would prove not simultaneous if measured from a different frame of reference. In this way time and space lose their separate identity and become a part of one space-time.

Einstein realized that relativity theory was the most radical challenge forced upon the concept of common sense, according to which time and space differ from each other in an essential way, with time being a linear stream and the events dipped in this stream having objective relations. He defended his theory stressing that it was the result of the analysis of empirical data and therefore could not be discarded unless an empirical fact proving it inadequate could be provided. Karl Popper, when creating his falsification theory, was inspired by Einstein’s attitude and his statement that the falsehood of a theory can be proven but not its veracity.33

Operationalism and Concepts and Logic

It should be noted that Nishida, accused by Tanabe of “irrationalism,” found in operationalism his weapon to abolish the classical-logic monopoly on truth, the long-standing bastion of common sense. (p 430) Bridgman stressed that science, language, or rational thinking are only tools used by us to better and better understand reality and that “the experiment will show if those are usable tools.”34 Language not only possesses symbolic meaning, but should be perceived in its essence as a tool. The problem of classical logic, which Bridgman referred to as a useful “invention,” should also be perceived from this perspective.35 For Nishida this conclusion was especially important — what we call “rational thinking” (therefore thinking according to the rules of classical logic) is only a tool, whose usefulness needs to be verified in experience. If it turns out that “rational thinking” is not capable of explaining the empirical event, a new “tool” that can do the job has to be sought after without remaining too attached to the “old tools.” If not, we will have a situation like the one Martin Heidegger was writing about: “[Cartesian Ratio] is not a fair judge — without a second thought pushes everything that does not match it into an alleged swamp of the irrational, at the same time marking the borders of ‘irrationality’ itself.”36

Nishida was describing operationalism as a Galilean way of thinking, in opposition to Aristotelian thinking. In the case of Aristotelian thinking, certain objects of certain features are subjected; the surroundings are concerned only if there is an outside influence on the object. For example, the fact that light objects move up while the heavy ones drop down is considered a tendency coming directly from the features of the object itself (the object’s weight). In opposition to this notion, the study of the laws of gravity started by Galileo shows that in studying any processes we have to take into consideration the relation of a given object to the given situation — in a vacuum the concept of weight loses its meaning.37

For Nishida the most important conclusion of operationalism was that logic was only a tool for getting to know reality, not necessarily a verification of truth. Rationalism connected with the rule of non-contradiction of classical logic is similarly not solid bedrock for truth, but a creation of man, who, at a certain stage of understanding in the world, found this tool the most useful. He stated: “We have to look for the source of rationalism in human subjectivity.”38 “Thinking is a historical operation.”39 Nishida stressed that the same statements that Bridgman formulated about physics also related to philosophy, because philosophers treat most basic philosophical concepts as abstract, separate from a certain historical operationality: Such problems like the opposition of form and matter, of the objective and the subjective, of the logical and non-logical should be considered anew from the standpoint of a certain historical operationality. The actions of man, starting with the commonplace, simplest everyday activities, and going as far as the actions of great politicians or great scientists, are always a historical operationality, whose nature is self-contradictory self.40 We come to the conclusion that in order to defend his views from Tanabe’s criticism that his philosophy of Absolute Nothingness was irrational and dogmatic, Nishida attempted to prove the adequacy of applying the logic of absolutely contradictory self-identity to reality. To accomplish this he had to reach for the ultimately effective weapon — proving that ‘mind’ and ‘formal logic’ are only ‘operational concepts’ (p 431)  created as ‘tools’ for explaining certain aspects of reality. He also had to prove that his own ‘operational concepts’ like ‘active intuition’ or the ‘logic of absolutely contradictory self-identity’ make possible a more complete explanation of events of the human experience. He realized that without this line of defense his philosophy would be seen as yet one more mystic-religious theory.

Nishida’s deliberations concerning modern philosophy can be described as looking for arguments needed for the gradual elimination of all the commonsense truths that are not in accordance with his vision of reality, the world of absolutely contradictory self-identity. Those arguments did not have to deliver the proof of Nishida’s theory directly — it was enough if they undermined the ‘monopoly of truth’ of the law of non-contradiction of classical logic; the extant theories up until that time had to be destroyed in order to build new ones. Nishida came to the realization that he had the right to proclaim a new hypothesis since no philosophical system so far could explain the new face of reality emerging from the experiences of contemporary physics, mainly quantum mechanics.

Active Intuition as the Fundamental Operation

Bridgman was criticized for his imprecise description of the concept of ‘operation’. Because of that, Nishida did not feel restricted when formulating his own definition of this concept. According to him, ‘operation’ meant a type of physical shaping of things in which “what is internal is what is external, and vice-versa.”41 What shapes, and what is being shaped, is not separate because it stays in the relation of contradictory self-identity.42 In other words, ‘operation’ is a result of Active Intuition, that is, activity caused by the internally contradictory self-identity of the subject and object. Nishida pointed out that Bridgman considered observing the accordance with experience (differentiating between accordance and non-accordance) the fundamental operation, while for Einstein the fundamental operation was in the very act of differentiating. Nishida did not agree with either of those conclusions; he considered the fundamental operation to be the act of Active Intuition, which precedes the act of differentiating: “The most basic and primal operation is the active intuition of creative ego. In Active Intuition the whole world of ‘I’ is a given, meaning the world in which ‘I’ is included. This is the foundation of all fields of science.”43

Nishida stated that Active Intuition is the source of real and empirical knowledge. 47 In his philosophy, reason is subjected to ‘active intuition’. It is a different interpretation of the relation between intuition and reason than that of Descartes, who created the concept of ‘intellectual intuition’, seen as a form of intellect. Descartes believed that reason operates through intuition while recognizing primal, obvious, simple, general, abstract truths, and, from these gains, further truths through deduction. For Nishida, reason that complies with formal logic (understood basically as discrimination/discernment, namely the ability to recognize the difference between one thing and another) is not acting through intuition, but is one of the aspects of intuition. Nishida repeatedly stressed that classical logic is contained within the logic of absolutely contradictory self-identity.48 Discursive thinking, tied to the dualism of subject and object, is concerned only with the separateness of all phenomena, not with their internally contradictory identity; therefore, the abilities of ‘reason’ (reason in accordance with the laws of classical logic) are limited.

It should be noted that Nishida agreed with Bergson, who stated that intuition is boundless activity. However, Nishida rejected Bergson’s definition of intuition as ‘pure duration’ (junsui jizoku).49 According to Bergson, intuition is the collectivity of pure awareness with the continuous existence of the world, the symbiosis of the human being with absolute reality, co-experiencing that allows direct contact with the object. Bergson believed that intellect provides us with a distorted vision of reality, because it does not understand the spontaneous creativity of life. It kills life, diminishing it to mechanical interactions between still elements; it does not take into account continuity and constant movement. Contrary to Bergson, Nishida stressed that the world of reason in accordance with classical logic is not a distorted version of the world of Active Intuition but is an important aspect of the world of Active Intuition, an important partial truth. The only state of mind that is adequate to reality is Active Intuition (the cognitive act in accordance with the logic of absolutely contradictory self-identity).

Nishida believed that all knowledge is only possible thanks to Active Intuition, meaning the absolutely contradictory self-identity of the subject and object of perception, since it is only then that the subject transcends itself and perceives the object “through becoming the object.” We perceive the world in our absolutely contradictory self-identity with the world. The world therefore possesses both the static aspect (simultaneous state) and the dynamic aspect (non-simultaneous state, meaning ceaseless passage from what is created to what is creative in the act of interaction). All experiments mean grasping reality in ‘active intuition’: “Every theory, even if it comes down to purely abstract deliberations, emerges as the effect of grasping the thing in the act of creation in Active Intuition. There is no science away from the foundation of Active Intuition.”50

Grasping the reality in the act of Active Intuition is carried over to the classical logic that reigns over discursive thinking. Classical logic is included in the logic of absolutely contradictory self-identity; thus, every description of reality in accordance only with classical logic will be incomplete. “The self-shaping world of absolutely (p 433) contradictory self-identity can now be described by means of classical logic only when we erase its core — Active Intuition.”51 We cannot reach the truth about the nature of reality if we only resort to abstract concepts while negating or ignoring intuitive data. Nishida believed that what should be criticized is the arbitrary nature of so-called “reasonable thinking,” and not its intuitive aspect: “The theory of relativity and quantum mechanics proved that Newton’s physics, although it became the basis for wonderful discoveries, was created on the elementary stage of perceptual observation by the senses.”52

No one can negate the usefulness of classical mechanics for the description of some phenomena, but it does not apply for descriptions of phenomena on the macro scale (universe) or the micro (structure of the atom). Similarly, earlier philosophical concepts do not have to be rejected, as long as they affectively describe particular phenomena. But they fail to explain fundamental problems of philosophy like time, space, or consciousness. 

Euclidean Objects’ and the Problem of Measuring

Nishida is more radical in his conclusions then Bridgman since he negates the existence of separate objects of unchangeable characteristics, objects that could be described as ‘Euclidean objects’ (in accord with the laws of Euclidean geometry). Such a definition of ‘objects’ does not match the world of absolutely contradictory self-identity — since one is all and all is one, there should be no separate, or in a way ‘closed’ elements.

Bridgman’s statements — that all knowledge earned through experience is imprecise, and the outcome of such measurements approximated — were of particular interest to Nishida: “Every experiment led by man is surrounded by the aureole of uncertainty.”53 “However much we would try to make our measurements precise, we cannot achieve the effect of Euclidean geometry.”54 Because of the non-continuous structure of radiation and matter, the physical concept of ‘length’ is relative. “Although it seems obvious that two plus two is four, our experience fails to confirm the existence of anything that could be precisely definable and self-identical without the sphere of indeterminacy. If we depart from experience, all physical operations are imprecise.”55 The fact of relativity of the concept of length disallows treating space simply as a collection of locations of objects, determined by precise measurements. Furthermore, measuring-rods and clocks should be perceived as objects, combined from moving atoms — they should not be treated as entities, which are independent from things that are measured.

There is no doubt that relativity theory undermines the adequacy of the concept of the ‘Euclidean object’ to reality. No matter how close the speed of the observer approximates the speed of light, the light still travels with classic speed. The result is that space, mass, and time become relative to the observer. This means that when the observer is taking measurements in an inertial frame of reference,56 that is, in motion with respect to his frame of reference, he notices clocks slowing down, distances (p 434)  shrinking, and greater masses; this effect grows stronger the closer the relative speed of both frames gets to the speed of light. Einstein pointed out that laws defining placement of objects in space are not fully in accordance with the laws of Euclidean geometry due to space curvature (the problem of gravity). For this reason, basic geometric concepts like ‘line’ or ‘plane’ lose their exact meaning in physics. Euclidean geometry laws include statements dealing with rigid bodies. Physicists have proved that there are no natural objects that would be characterized by features performed by rigid bodies. The objects are not rigid because they are elastically deformable and they vary their volume due to changes in temperature.57 A ray of light is not a representation of a line, or any one-dimensional entity. Furthermore, Euclidean geometry does not apply to all cases of rigid bodies — for example, to the rigid bodies in the reference frame circulating in regard to some inertial frame of reference.58 Einstein stated that even though from the oldest of times geometry was a half-empiric science, in time the basic geometric laws came to be recognized as obvious and the belief began that the “axioms of geometry cannot be reasonably denied at all.”59 So how do objects “exist” in space, since we cannot measure them precisely and they change their dimensions depending on the frame of reference? Definitely, ever since Einstein’s relativity theory, objects cannot be seen as having defined dimensions, existing in space used as an unmoving backdrop.

Nishida’s response is radical. There are no such things as independent objects with set dimensions, just as there is no absolute movement or absolute stillness. The objects do not posses defined frames that they could be enclosed in, since their independence is only one aspect of the world of absolutely contradictory self-identity — the other aspect being the self-identity of all that exists. It is a unity in which all is one and one is all. Trying to define an object has to lead therefore to indefiniteness, since every element encloses within itself all others and all others contain this one.

Separateness of the Subject and Object Versus Quantum Mechanics

Nishida wrote that the ‘ego’ is ‘wrapped’ in the world (sekai ni tsutsumareta). He used this analogy for one purpose — to make the reader aware that the ‘ego’ can never be the outside, impartial observer of reality. For this reason it is faulty to differentiate between the psychical, subjective ‘inner experience’ (naiteki keiken) and objective ‘outer experience’ (gaiteki keiken): “Up to now the world of ‘outer experience’ was seen in opposition to the world of ‘inner experience’. But there are no such two kinds of experience.”60 The experience is one, and the concepts of what is ‘inner’ and what is ‘outer’ display two aspects of the same experience. It should be noted that even at the end of his life, Nishida in a way returned to the theory of ‘pure experience’ (junsui keiken) that he articulated in his first work, Zen no kenkyū (An inquiry into the good) (1911).

Criticized that his deliberations on surpassing the dualism of subject and object of cognition were irrational, Nishida brought up the results of experiments in quantum mechanics. He saw them as bringing forth scientific proof that the subject is (p 4035) not an independent observer, separate from the object of cognition. He meant that these experiments seemed to suggest that the very act of performing the experiment changes the position of the observed object. Acceptance of wave-particle duality means departing from common ways in which the objects in space are imagined, and the difficulty is even greater because of the probabilistic nature of the basic state of the system.61 If an electron is shot toward a wall that has two holes, each containing sensors, the electron will pass through just one; however, if there are no sensors the electron will behave like a wave and pass through both apertures. This deliberation suggests that the very act of observing (using measuring devices) influences the experimental process. For Nishida this conclusion was especially important because it delivered the proof that the subject-object dualism connected to the law of non-contradiction of classical logic did not adequately describe reality.62 ‘The objective world’ independent of human operation does not exist. The world that humans grasp through activity (through ‘operation’) “is not just objective or just subjective and is also not just a unity of subject and object.”63 Such a world is absolutely contradictory self-identity of subject and object. Man cannot observe the world from the outside, as a detached observer. His separateness from the world is only one aspect of his relation to the world since being in opposition to the world he is at the same time one with it.64

Causality and Quantum Mechanics

Nishida believed that “quantum mechanics is the knowledge of reality acquired through one of many operations.”65 Contrary to the theory of relativity, quantum mechanics undermines causality.66 Wave equation combines the energy of the system with wave function. The wave amplitude squared is proportional to the probability of finding the particle in a specified location. Wave function expresses the impossibility of defining simultaneously both the location and momentum of a particle. The system, in an uncertainty state, is characterized only by the probability of a certain outcome of an observation that becomes defined only due to the observation itself. A famous thought experiment made by the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrodinger (1887–1961) was aimed at illustrating exactly this indefinable nature of the world of quantum mechanics:

 Let us imagine that a cat is locked in a box with a vial of cyanide that will break if a Geiger counter becomes activated. There is also a substance in the box with a fifty percent chance of radioactive decay within an hour and activation of the counter will occur if the substance becomes radioactive. So if the substance does not become radioactive the cat will live. The difficulty is that the system [according to quantum mechanics] is an uncertainty state. The wave function of the entire system is a superposition of states whose full description would consist of the probabilities of all possible events that have taken place when the function is finally measured; therefore it equally includes a live cat or a dead cat. When we look into the box we will see whether or not the cat is dead or alive. But the reduction of the wave packet happens no earlier than when it is observed. Thus quantum mechanics forces us to admit that before we looked it was not true that the cat was (p 436)  dead just like it can also be said to be untrue that the cat was alive. This thought experiment shows the difficulties related to imagining the quantum non-determinations through transposing them to the world of common objects.67

Nishida did not comment on this thought experiment, but he avidly stressed that the rule of non-contradiction does not apply to deliberations on experiments in quantum mechanics. As we see in Schrodinger’s conclusion: “it was not true, that the cat was dead, and it was not true that the cat was alive.”

The following problem emerges: is the uncertainty of knowledge inherent in the field of quantum mechanics derived from the inability to measure outcomes precisely or from a reality that in its essence is uncertain? Nishida chose the latter answer based on the idea that quantum mechanics delivers proof against causality determinism. Our common understanding of cause and effect relations was undermined by Hume, who believed that through experience we do not get to know causality but only the order of events, and, based on convention and our familiarity (through observation of repetitive sequences), we input the cause-and-effect relation. Nishida’s view was that experiments showing the lack of determinism in the world relate to the freedom aspect of the world of absolutely contradictory self-identity. This does not mean that he fully negated determinism, because he only limited it to one aspect of the world of absolutely contradictory self-identity: “I believe that quantum mechanics did not negate fully the theory of determinism (ketteiron) but on the contrary, explained it precisely, taking into account the human factor.”68 In the world of absolutely contradictory self-identity, due to the aspect of oneness of all elements, changing one element evokes change in the entire system. Therefore, each determined sequence of cause and effect will be only partial truth: “One event does not call for one effect. We always deal with a continuum of countless events and countless effects.” 69

Nishida’s Philosophy as ‘Radical Empiricism’

Nishida believed that up until his time the deliberations about science never put science on the spot; the roots and source of science itself were never made into a problem. What was deliberated were the structures of already existing fields of science, for example Kant’s commentary on Euclidian geometry or Newton’s deliberations on physics. Philosophers did not analyze science as a manifestation of historical operationalism in the historic world.70 According to Nishida, the subject formulating the opinion is not the most important in science.71 Science became possible through the absolutely contradictory self-identity of the subject and object, therefore through Active Intuition, which is not a function of a singular awareness. Science has its base in Active Intuition axioms because it has its source in the fundamental operation, the act of Active Intuition understood as observing and acting in absolutely contradictory self-identity with the world.

Nishida called his views ‘radical empiricism’ (tetteiteki keikenron),72 according to which “what we call direct experience is not given to a man (a subject); on the (p 437)  contrary it is the man that is given in direct experience.”73 It was a brand-new approach because up until then experience was always that of a particular subject. In Nishida’s philosophy, experiencing reality is primal to the experience of the subject.74

In a way Nishida’s point of view can be called epistemological empiricism because he demanded all theories be verified through experience. At the same time he noted that every verification is also an experience conditioned by a defined operation: Verification of a given theory through ‘sensual experience’ (kankanteki keiken) means the singular corporeal existence is recognized in the world. The experience does not mean that the mind being tabula rasa passively absorbs data. ‘Ego’ exists in the world in a way that is inwardly contradictory and considers and grasps objects through Active Intuition.75 In contrast to pragmatism Nishida does not acknowledge the so-called genetic theory of truth, which means that he does not agree with the view that humans set the truth driven by its practical uses. He defends the classical definition of truth as being in accordance with reality, but reality as absolutely contradictory self-identity. That is why he stresses the need for the verification of theory with experience, both religious and scientific.

The Philosophy of Absolutely Contradictory Self-Identity and Some Problems of Contemporary Physics

Within the discoveries of contemporary physics Nishida searched for confirmation of his vision of reality as absolutely contradictory self-identity. We could also turn the concept around and ask how Nishida’s philosophy explains certain phenomena whose interpretation in the field of physics might be controversial. Nishida’s deliberations on the philosophy of physics belong to a wider trend that was inspired by the revolutionary discoveries of contemporary physics starting with Einstein. Einstein’s views influenced, for example, the so-called surrationalism of Gaston Bachelard (1844–1962). According to Bachelard, the era of ‘the new scientific spirit’ started with Einstein’s relativity theory, which changed the status of all basic concepts that until then had been considered final and unchangeable. Now, the mind challenges concepts, sets up new ones, and challenges abstractions, even those most daring. Scientific experiments directed by the ‘new mind’ deny common experience. For the ‘new mind’, refuting the theory is more important than confirming it.

Although Nishida did not clearly formulate the implications for physics of his philosophical theory, the following interpretation of chosen problems from contemporary physics, looked at from the standpoint of the philosophy of absolutely contradictory self-identity, seems plausible.

1. Objects cannot be precisely measured; the length of an object depends on the frame of reference (theory of relativity). — Independent objects with unchangeable features do not exist. Sensual recognition cannot be the final criterion in this case. (p 438)  The feeling of independence is adequate only to one side of the world of absolutely contradictory self-identity, the other side being oneness of the elements and their mutual interfusion. Looking for ‘enclosed’ particles of matter is a mistake from its core — photons, quarks, and electrons are not such particles. There is no such thing as matter that consists of indivisible particles. What we believe to be matter is ‘discontinued continuity’ (therefore it possesses structure in accordance with the logic of absolutely contradictory self-identity) and cannot be divided into any independent elements.

2. The observer changes the course of the experiment by using measuring devices (quantum mechanics). — Because of the absolutely contradictory self-identity of the subject and object within the experiment such an influence is unavoidable. There is no such thing as an independent, objective observer; subject and object mutually influence each other.

3. How to explain the uncertainty of quantum states (thought experiment, “Schrodinger’s Cat”): Experiments point toward the conclusion that the particles of the micro- world do not have precise location, only the probability of one. It is the observation that changes this probability into reality. — Reality is uncertain according to the law of contradiction in the logic of absolutely contradictory self-identity (‘yes’ and at the same time ‘no’). A determination that is in accordance with the law of non-contradiction in classical logic (either ‘yes’ or ‘no’) happens only from the standpoint of subject-object dualism, which is one aspect of the world of absolutely contradictory self-identity. Quantum mechanics, therefore, reaches the other aspect of reality that is not uncertainty but the state in accordance with the logic of paradox (‘yes’ and at the same time ‘no’).

4. Non-locality in quantum mechanics. Is it possible to send signals faster than the speed of light? How can one explain the fact that an instantaneous connection between events happening in distant locations is possible? — Instantaneous connection between events happening in distant areas is not caused by signals traveling at the speed of light, because in the world of absolutely contradictory self-identity, where one is all and all are one, change in one element means change in all other elements. There is no need for a carrier (signal) of such change.


The points listed above are not an attempt to prove that Nishida managed to solve problems of contemporary physics that puzzle the world’s physicists. They merely point out that certain logical consequences of perceiving reality as ‘absolutely contradictory self-identity’ in Nishida’s philosophy have some reference to the problems of contemporary physics.

Nishida realized that within quantum mechanics many elements could not be explained simply by using the knowledge available up to that time. The crisis within a given field of science happens when certain experimental phenomena cannot be explained through previously known concepts. He stresses, however, that such a (p 439) situation should not surprise us because humanity had encountered that problem many times: “Someone had to be the first to be interested in why amber, when rubbed against fabric, became charged so as to attract a small piece of straw. Back then, an attempt to explain such phenomena was no easy matter and bore the risks of false interpretation.”76 There is no need to adjust the new experimental material to concepts that proved useful while describing thoroughly different experiments. We have to realize that physics is a collection of theoretical models, such as the model of an atom or an electrical field, created to explain reality that we cannot experience directly through our senses. When a certain model does not explain reality, a new model has to be created, many times by trial and error. One example of a faulty concept, a tool that was finally considered useless and was abandoned, is the concept of ether. Einstein wrote:

When the field theory was created it seemed absolutely absurd to the physicists of the nineteenth century to assign physics functions to space itself, [and] therefore the hypothesis of ether, infiltrating the whole of space as the carrier of electromagnetic processes, was created. The states of ether, at first, were seen as mechanistic, similar to elastic deformations of solid bodies. Ether was a type of matter in which the particles were ‘floating’.77

Einstein, in his Special Theory of Relativity, negated the stillness of ether, its mechanistic feature, and concluded that ether did not exist at all. Magnetic fields are not states of some ‘body’ but independent realities that cannot be categorized as anything else and are not related to any carrier.

What should we do when we encounter experiential material that cannot be interpreted according to the laws of classical logic? Nishida’s stance is that we should establish new laws of logic, adequate to the data, and forsake holding on to the old rules that proved useful through different, previous experiments. Nishida’s stance is quite different from that of Willard van Orman Quine, who strongly criticized all attempts to dismiss the law of non-contradiction in classical logic:

Let us consider the rather popular deliberations on what would happen if we dismissed the law of non-contradiction, and considered true at the same time some proposition and its negation. The answer could be that it would destroy all science. The result of every conjunction in a form of A and non-A could be any proposition. Therefore, considering true at the same time some proposition and its negation would force us to accept any proposition at all and we would cease to differentiate between true and false.78

Nishida would not agree with such a conclusion. In the logic of absolutely contradictory self-identity the truth is the simultaneous negation and affirmation, not just any singular affirmative or negative proposition by itself. The affirmation or negation by itself can be only a partial truth. Quine admits that so called ‘deviant logics’ that undermine the law of non-contradiction come from the need to deal with paradoxes present in, for example, set theory, or semantics. He also agrees that Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics is a challenge to the law of the excluded middle.79 Some values cannot be described in combination, and this limitation is not coming from human imperfection, but from the laws of physics. That is why in the (p 440)  year 1936 Birkhoff and Neumann proposed a weakened substitute for truth-function logic. There is no place for classical negation; therefore there is no law of the excluded middle. Quine, defending ‘orthodox’ classical logic, makes the following plea: despite the technical merits of such (non-orthodox) systems of logic, he calls for following the rule of minimum damage, a call for caution.80 Although he admits that physics is closer to reality than set theory he continues to stress that we cannot underestimate the costs that come with access to non-classical logic. Those costs, according to Quine, are mostly related to the loss of “simplicity of theory.”81 Can we allow ourselves not to draw conclusions from the results of a given experiment simply because they undermine a coherent theory that we are accustomed to as a model of reality?

When in the act of experiencing reality one experiences contradiction, one’s thought can also travel similarly, and that is when we deal with reflection in accordance with the law of contradiction (therefore the logic of absolutely contradictory self-identity). One could come to the conclusion that the thought process in itself is not restricted by any law of logic because it only reflects within itself the laws of reality that it experiences. If a thought process through experience comes up against data that is not in correspondence with the law of non-contradiction, a new tool (new logic), adequate to reality, has to be created: “Many people think that conclusions that are not in accordance with classical logic are false because they recognize the existence of necessary laws ruling the thought process. But the truth of any judgment has to be verified through experience.”82

The most serious criticism of Nishida’s thought is that he applies to his philosophical deliberations reflections surrounding the results of experiences from the field of physics, taking them out of their original context. Undoubtedly, Nishida was also applying the method of ‘selective identification’, the key to his philosophical comparative analysis, to contemporary physics. Therefore he chose only those elements that suited his vision of reality as absolutely contradictory self-identity, ignoring the unsuitable elements. Even if Nishida’s deliberations about the philosophical consequences of discoveries in contemporary physics are only a creation of his fancy, they deserve attention as the attempt at combining the tradition of Zen Buddhism with Einstein’s theory of relativity and quantum mechanics into one philosophical system.

The abbreviation NKZ throughout refers to the nineteen-volume Nishida Kitarō zenshū; see below, under Nishida Kitarō 西田幾多郎 1965–1966, for the individual titles cited herein.

1 – Nishida Kitarō (1870–1945) was born in the small village of Mori, Japan (now in Ishikawa Prefecture), to a wealthy agrarian family. In 1886 he began his study at the preparatory school designed for students wishing to take the Tokyo Uni (p 441) versity entry exams (Ishikawa Semmon Gakkō, later known as Daiyon Kōtōgakkō). Due to his rebellious attitude at the time he did not graduate from his school and therefore decided to audit classes in the Department of Philosophy at the Imperial University in Tokyo even though it meant cutting off his path toward obtaining a university diploma, so important for an academic career. There was, however, a good side to this situation: Nishida was not under the influence of any particular teacher and chose his lectures freely. This could have had a bearing on the originality of the philosophic system he later created. For a while Nishida was working as a lecturer at Gakushūin, and in 1910 he was hired at Kyoto University even though he did not have an academic degree. Luckily for Nishida, influential people around him knew him and appreciated his knowledge. Nishida’s first book, Zen no kenkyū (An inquiry into the good), was published in 1911 and became a best seller. In 1912 Nishida was given the post of professor at the Institute of Religion Studies and began his lectures on history of religion and psychology. The next year he was officially granted the title of doctor of humanities thanks to the recommendation of Dean Sawayanagi Masatarō (1865–1927). This title was of special importance to Nishida, who had no proof of a high school graduation or any official university diploma, since from that time on his position as an academic could not be questioned.
2 – “Bashoteki ronri to shūkyōteki sekaikan,” in Nishida Kitarō zenshū (Nishida 1965–1966; hereafter NKZ ), 11 : 446.
3 – “Keiken kagaku,” NKZ 9 : 277.
4 – “Bashoteki ronri to shūkyōteki sekaikan,” NKZ 11 : 438.
5 – Ibid., p. 421.
6 – Yusa 2002, p. 190.
7 – More on the subject of the logic of paradox in the teachings of Zen masters can be found in Agnieszka Kozyra, “Nishida Kitarō’s Logic of Absolutely Contradictory Self-Identity and the Problem of Orthodoxy in Zen Tradition,” Japan Review 20 (Kyoto: Nichibunken, 2008); Agnieszka Kozyra, “Paradokusuteki nihirizumu
— Nishida to Haideggā” (Paradoxical nihilism — Nishida and Heidegger), Nihon kenkyū 33 (Kyoto: International Research Center for Japanese Studies, 2006); Agnieszka Kozyra, “Nishida Kitarō’s Logic of Absolutely Contradictory Identity and the Problem of Ethics in Zen,” Silva Iaponicarum (Poznan´ , 2009).
8 – Muramoto 1997, p. 91.
9 – “Bashoteki ronri to shūkyōteki sekaikan,” NKZ 11 : 445–446.
10 – “Butsuri no sekai,” NKZ 11 : 5.
11 – “Eien no ima no jikogentei,” NKZ 6 : 185.
12 – “Bashoteki ronri to shūkyōteki sekaikan,” NKZ 11 : 406.
442 Philosophy East & West
13 – Nishida’s theories, in my opinion, are crucial for the interpretation of Zen Philosophy and aesthetics. Two of my publications in Polish are dedicated to Nishida’s theories: Filozofia zen (The philosophy of zen) (2004) and Estetyka zen (The aesthetics of zen) (2011).
14 – Nishida’s great interest in mathematics definitely had an influence on the great import he placed on logic. Hōjō Tokiyuki (1859–1929), a teacher of mathematics and a Zen practitioner, acknowledged Nishida’s talent for mathematics and ushered him into further study in this field. He advised Nishida against taking up the study of philosophy since “a philosopher should also have a poetic imagination.” Despite his preceptor’s opinion Nishida had no intention of giving up the study of philosophy, which he considered “researching the true nature of the universe.”
15 – “Watakushi no ronri ni tsuite,” NKZ 12 : 265.
16 – Ibid.
17 – Yusa 2002, p. 287.
18 – I extend my sincere thanks to Professor Krzysztof Stefan´ ski, a professor of physics at the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun´ for his consultations during my work on the Polish translation of the essay “Keiken kagaku.” The translation was published in the second part of my book Filozofia nicości Nishidy Kitarō (The philosophy of nothingness of Nishida Kitarō) (Warszawa: Nozomi, 2007).
19 – “Keiken kagaku,” NKZ 9 : 224.
20 – Kaneko 1981, pp. 130–131.
21 – Einstein 2001, p. 178. (English text source: Emanuel Libman Anniversary Volumes
[New York: International, 1932], vol. 1, p. 363.)
22 – “Keiken kagaku,” NKZ 9 : 237.
23 – Einstein 2001, p. 320. (English text source: Albert Einstein, foreword to Galileo Galilei, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems: Ptolemaic and Copernican [1632], trans S. Drake, 2nd ed. [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1953], p. xxviii.)
24 – Einstein 2001, p. 181. (English text source: Albert Einstein, Einstein’s Essays in Science [New York: Dover Publications, 2009], p. 14.)
25 – Einstein 2001, p. 279. (English text source: Henry Margenau, “Einstein’s Conception of Reality,” in Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist, ed. Paul Arthur Schilpp [New York: Harper, 1949], p. 245.)
26 – Einstein 2001, p. 302. (English text source: http://www.relativitybook.com/resources/  Einstein_space.html [accessed August 25, 2014].)
27 – Ernst Mach, whose research inspired Einstein, believed that concepts such as ‘atom’, ‘matter’, and ‘causality’ are no more then theoretical models enabling (p 443 efficient orientation among the facts, but they are not the description of how these facts exist. Scientific theory is the most efficient form of human adaptation to the environment in the course of species evolution conditioned by current necessity.
28 – Czerny and Zipper 1998, pp. 13–14.
29 – English text source: http://www.informationphilosopher.com/solutions/scientists/ einstein/Method_of_Theoretical_Physics.pdf (accessed August 25, 2014).
30 – Einstein 2001, p. 156.
31 – Ibid., p. 278.
32 – Ibid., p. 329.
33 – Ibid., p. 70.
34 – “Keiken kagaku,” NKZ 9 : 232.
35 – Ibid., p. 296.
36 – Heidegger 2000, p. 332.
37 – “Keiken kagaku,” NKZ 9 : 289.
38 – Ibid., p. 297.
39 – Ibid., 252.
40 – Ibid., p. 299.
41 – Ibid., p. 247.
42 – Ibid., p. 269.
43 – Ibid., p. 303.
44 – Einstein 2001, p. 151.
45 – Einstein 2001, p. 69. (English text source: http://alberteinstein.info/vufind1/images/ einstein/ear01/view/1/5–191.tr_000012852.pdf [accessed September 9, 2014].)
46 – “Keiken kagaku,” NKZ 9 : 303.
47 – “Kōiteki chokkan,” NKZ 8 : 541.
48 – “Bashoteki ronri to shūkyōteki sekaikan,” NKZ 11 : 421.
49 – Ibid., p. 541.
50 – “Keiken kagaku,” NKZ 9 : 195.
51 – Ibid., p. 198.
52 – “Bashoteki ronri to shūkyōteki sekaikan,” NKZ 11 : 453.
53 – “Keiken kagaku,” NKZ 9 : 227.
444 Philosophy East & West
54 – Ibid., p. 229.
55 – Ibid., p. 227.
56 – The inertial reference frame is a frame of reference that is in a state of constant rectilinear motion.
57 – Einstein 2001, p. 327.
58 – Ibid., p. 84.
59 – Ibid., p. 105.
60 – “Keiken kagaku,” NKZ 9 : 272.
61 – The uncertainty states also include virtual particles (photons, gravitons) that are recognized indirectly through the energetic balance of quantum processes. Virtual particles can for a limited time exhibit the characteristics of ordinary particles (e.g., during exchange processes). The ontological status of virtual particles is a question yet to be answered definitively.
62 – “Keiken kagaku,” NKZ 9 : 274.
63 – Ibid., p. 242.
64 – Ibid., p. 301.
65 – Ibid., p. 274.
66 – Einstein 2001, p. 123.
67 – Blackburn 1994, p. 202.
68 – Einstein 2001, p. 453.
69 – “Keiken kagaku,” NKZ 9 : 231.
70 – Ibid., p. 302.
71 – “Kōiteki chokkan,” NKZ 8 : 567.
72 – “Keiken kagaku,” NKZ 9 : 240.
73 – Ibid., p. 252.
74 – The exact quote (“it is not that an individual has experience, but the experience contains an individual”) appears already in his theory of pure experience in Zen no kenkyū (NKZ 1 : 28).
75 – Ibid., p. 293.
76 – “Keiken kagaku,” NKZ 9 : 228.
77 – Einstein 2001, p. 141.
78 – Quine 2002, p. 153.
79 – Ibid., pp. 160–161.
80 – Ibid., p. 162.
Agnieszka Kozyra 445
81 – Ibid., p. 163.
82 – “Keiken kagaku,” NKZ 9 : 233.


Blackburn, Simon. 1994. Oksfordzki słownik filozoficzny (Oxford dictionary of philosophy). Warszawa: Ksia˛z˙ka i Wiedza. Czerny, Janusz, and Wiktor Zipper. 1998.
Podstawy filozofii fizyki (Fundamentals of philosophy of physics). Katowice: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Śla˛skiego. Einstein, Albert. 2001.
Pisma filozoficzne (Philosophical writings). Warszawa: DeAgostini.
Heidegger, Martin. 2000.
Znaki drogi (Pathmarks). Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Spacja.
Kaneko Tsutomu 金子努. 1981. Ainshutain shokku 『アインシュタイン・ショッ

(Einstein’s shock). Vol. 2. Tōkyō: Kawaderu Shobō 河出書房, 2002.
Muramoto Shōji 村本詔司. 1997. “Nishida no zenron” 「西田の禅論」 (Nishida’s
opinion on Zen). In Ueda Shizuteru 上田閑照, ed., Zen to gendai sekai 『禅と

代世界』 (Zen and the contemporary world). Kyoto: Zenbunka Kenkyūjo 禅文
化研究所. 1997.
Nishida Kitarō 西田幾多郎. 1965–1966. Nishida Kitarō zenshū 『西田幾多郎全集』
(Collected works of Nishida Kitarō). 19 vols. Tōkyō: Iwanami Shoten 岩波書店.
Herein abbreviated as NKZ.
———. “Bashoteki ronri to shūkyōteki sekaikan”「 場所的論理と宗教的世界観」 (Topological
logic and religious worldview). NKZ 11 : 271–464.
———. “Butsuri no sekai” 「物理の世界」 (The physical world). NKZ 11 : 3–4.
———. “Eien no ima no jikogentei”「 永遠の今の自己限定」 (The self-determination
of the eternal now). NKZ 6 : 181–232.
———. “Keiken kagaku”「 経験科学」 (Empirical science). NKZ 9 : 223–304.
———. “Kōiteki chokkan” 「行為的直観」 (Active intuition). NKZ 8 : 541–571.
———. “Watakushi no ronri ni tsuite” 「私の論理について」 (Concerning my logic).
NKZ 12 : 265–266.
———. “Zettaimujunteki jiko dōitsu” 「絶対矛盾的自己同一」 (Absolutely contradictory
self-identity). NKZ 9 : 147–222.
Quine, W[illard] V[an Orman]. 2002. Filozofia logiki (Philosophy of logic).Warszawa:
Yusa, Michiko. 2002. Zen and Philosophy: An Intellectual Biography of Nishida Kitarō.
Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.
(p[ 446)
Additional Sources
The following titles related to the article topic are from the Nishida Kitarō zenshū:
“Aru kyōju no taishoku no ji” 「或教授退職の辞」 (About the retirement of a certain
professor). NKZ 12 : 168–171.
“Basho no jikogentei to shite ishiki sayō” 「場所の自己限定と意識作用」 (The self-determination of topos as the function of consciousness). NKZ 6 : 86–116.
“Chishiki no kyakkansei ni tsuite”「 知識の客観性について」 (Concerning the objectivity of science). NKZ 10 : 343–476.
“Ronri to sūri”「 論理と数理」 (Logic and mathematics). NKZ 11 : 5–59.__